Oakland's Lakeview Elementary is seized and transformed by protesting parents
THE NEIGHBORHOOD PROBLEM
One of the reasons for the stated school closure is that it ranked in "the bottom quarter of elementary schools in terms of the number of children living within a half-mile of the school or within the attendance area" and the "lowest percentage of neighborhood students attending the school (30 percent)."
The school is also 99 percent children of color.
As Oakland Tribune education reporter Katy Murphy has written, about half of students in Oakland attend schools outside their district. As a statement from the group Decolonize Oakland points out, "We have to question why the families of black and brown students who live outside of Adams Point have chosen Lakeview."
Maybe it's that strong sense of community? All of the other schools slated for closure are also in the flatlands and serve mostly African American and Latino students.
Root, formerly Occupy the Hood Oakland, has played a big part in the organizing. So has Education for the 99 Percent, Occupy Oakland's education working group, and other Occupy Oakland volunteers.
"A lot of people from Occupy have been extremely supportive and we wouldn't be able to do this action without that support," Velasquez said. "For example, the food, they have come every single day to feed, not just breakfast, lunch and dinner, but snacks and drinks."
The sit-in has also received support from labor groups. A letter signed by more than 50 teachers' union leaders and local school employees declares, "An injury to one is an injury to all. Let's seize this opportunity to fight alongside parents, students, and community. We will mobilize our members to support this struggle."
The demonstration has not, however, received support from the city of Oakland. Officers from the OUSD Police Service has visited the school several times (and Velasquez says they have done so without warning, despite agreeing to call first to avoid scaring children). Oakland police have been on site as well, and the protesters have received warnings to leave.
"I still remain hopeful that the protesters will see that the most forward-looking resolution to the standoff is to disperse peacefully and to concentrate their efforts on improving the school district for the year 2012/2013 and beyond," Flint told me. "Right now we still believe that if there's a relatively prompt resolution to the standoff, we'll be able to meet our targets to get the facilities ready."
"It's not clear why they're doing this sit-in in Oakland, an overwhelmingly Democratic district where Republicans can't get elected," Flint said. "The fundamental problem with this issue is all the Republicans have taken a no taxes pledge."
Velasquez agrees. "It's criminal what the state of California is doing right now," he said. "But we're focusing our attention on Tony Smith and the board because they're accepting these conditions, and they shouldn't...So if they feel that way, why are they not doing something about it, instead of accepting the conditions, and hurting the families and the students? Most importantly the kids." Flint said the board would be willing to work with the group, but that the sit-in is pointless. "I don't view this current action as something that is providing us any additional leverage," he said, though he noted that his office had not attempted to use the sit-in to pressure the state. "We've coordinated people across the state, sending in postcards and petitions," he explained. But when asked what worked best, he said nothing has. "I can't name a time we've been successful," he said, "because I don't think we've been successful." As budget cuts sweep the country many governments are feeling this kind of defeatism. The Peoples School for Public Education may not last forever. But they've taught 30 kids for free for more than two weeks now, and despite limited time and resources, show no sign of stopping.